Arciero State Legislation to Assist Student Veterans with PTSD Passes House

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State Rep. James Arciero spoke Nov. 6 on the House Floor in support of his legislation, House Bill 4177: An Act Relative to the Training of Higher Education Counselors in PTSDs, which would assist active duty service personnel and veterans in state colleges and universities suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders . The bill was passed unanimously with 158 votes.

“As a member of a military family, I know firsthand the challenges faced by those brave women and men who have worn the uniform of the United States when they return from their service overseas,” said Arciero, whose brother and brother-in-law served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The legislation, a collaborative effort with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, will establish an education program to train clinical and non-clinical counselors at state colleges and universities to recognize and assist student veterans in dealing with the various issues related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in active duty and veteran students.

“With 2,500 student veterans enrolled and all of our undergraduate campuses ranked Military Friendly Schools, UMass is committed to support services for student veterans,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “Through this legislation, UMass can expand that support to student veterans throughout public higher education in Massachusetts by providing specialized training in PTSD for counselors. We thank Representative Arciero, a proud UMass alum, for his leadership on this issue.”

According to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, there are roughly 323,000 veterans in the Commonwealth. This legislation will help student veterans adjust to college and civilian life and better prepare them for their roles as members of the state’s future workforce.

“The University of Massachusetts Medical School is actively engaged in patient care, teaching and research collaborations with Veterans Affairs and hope to deepen our partnership in the future,” said Michael F. Collins, M.D., medical school chancellor. “We are pleased to help ensure that state colleges and universities have the necessary training to help ease the transition for returning men and women who have so admirably served our country.”

Due to the struggle with trauma and related psychological distress caused by both deployment in a military zone and military combat engagements, soldiers and veterans can experience social and family disruption that can negatively impact their ability to succeed in school. In addition to this trauma, they may also deal with other psychiatric and physical disabilities, loss of military camaraderie and isolation, social disconnection and be at risk of suicide.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war and combat, rape or other violent personal assault. In the past, PTSD has been known by many names, such as “shell shock” during the years of World War I and “combat fatigue” after World War II.

People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experiences that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of traumatic events, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.

Many people exposed to a traumatic event experience symptoms like those described above in the days following the event. For a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, however, symptoms last for more than a month and often persist for months and sometimes years. Many individuals develop symptoms within three months of the trauma, but symptoms may appear later. For people with PTSD, the symptoms cause significant distress or problems functioning. PTSD often occurs with other related conditions, such as depression, substance use, memory problems and other physical and mental health problems.

“Student Veterans are one of the fastest growing segments of the veterans’ community in Massachusetts.  These individuals bring a tremendous amount of experience, knowledge and unique perspectives to our classrooms and campuses.  Unfortunately, reintegration to civilian-student life can be challenging.  Through the advocacy of Representative Arciero and this legislation, we can help offer better supports to ease that transition and create more welcoming and productive learning environments throughout the Commonwealth” said Coleman Nee, a Marine Corps Veteran of the Gulf War who served as Secretary of the state Department of Veterans Affairs from 2011-2015 under Governor Deval Patrick.

The legislation calls for clinical and non-clinical counselors to be educated and trained in the areas of military culture and its influences on a service member’s psychology; deployment cycle stressors; outreach strategies for administrative, non-clinical and clinical services; and the symptoms of depression, suicide, deployment-related insomnia, substance abuse and the overall issues related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Finally, the bill calls for training in the knowledge of available PTSD resources and methods of referral for active duty and veteran students.

“I believe that the transition from military to civilian life can be one of the biggest life challenges that our brave soldiers can face after their service to our nation. It should be the goal of all of us to make this difficult time a little easier for our heroes and their families, especially as they seek the professional skills they will need and deserve to enter the civilian workforce,” said Arciero.

The bill is now headed to the state Senate for consideration.